Chelsea’s new head coach Antonio Conte believes that the club’s absence from the Champions League could be a blessing in disguise as they bid to re-capture the Premier League title.
Last season was Chelsea’s worst of the Roman Abramovich era, with José Mourinho leaving the club in December having masterminded the Blues’ worst start to a top-flight campaign since the 1960s. Abramovich decided to pull the plug on the second reign of the self-proclaimed ‘Special One’ after they endured the worst ever defence of a Premier League title.
Mourinho was replaced by Guus Hiddink on an interim basis, much as Luis Felipe Scolari had been in 2009 when the Brazilian was also removed from the managerial hot-seat when Chelsea were under-performing. Back then Hiddink won the FA Cup with the Blues and led them to a third-placed finish, but this time around he couldn’t repeat the trick.
Chelsea were beaten in the FA Cup quarter-final by Everton in a stormy match at Goodison Park, as former Stamford Bridge striker Romelu Lukaku scored twice and both Diego Costa and Gareth Barry were sent off. The Spaniard appeared to bite the Everton midfielder, but the Football Association decided not to extend a ban to him in the same way that they had to Liverpool striker Luis Suarez when he did the same thing to Chelsea player Branislav Ivanovic.
The Dutchman also couldn’t help the Blues to recover from their poor start to the campaign and they ended the Premier League season in tenth place, missing out on the Champions League for the first time since Abramovich bought the West London club.
However former Italy national team manager Conte is not convinced that missing out on the Champions League is actually all that disastrous for the Blues’ upcoming league campaign. The club’s riches mean that they can still attract top players and the lack of a European distraction means that they can concentrate fully on the Premier League.
Speaking to the London newspaper the Evening Standard Conte said, “Not playing in the Champions League could be an opportunity because I will be able to work more with my players. If you ask me if I prefer this situation, I don’t because Chelsea must be in this competition. But because we are not, I will have a whole week to train with my players and that gives me a chance to work with them more compared to Chelsea managers in previous seasons”.
With the former Juventus player and manager known to play to a specific system there’s little doubt that time on the training ground will give him an advantage that previous Chelsea managers did not enjoy. Given that Manchester City, Tottenham, Arsenal and Leicester are all in the Champions League and former Blues manager Mourinho’s new club Manchester United are in the Europa League, Chelsea and Liverpool are in the fortunate position of having no European football to distract them from a siege on the Premier League title.
Conte was quick to point out that Chelsea need to return to the Champions League as soon as possible, however. The only time the club have finished outside the top four since Abramovich bought it from Ken Bates was in 2012 when they won it under Roberto Di Matteo’s management. Conte said, “You do feel like you’re missing something when you’re not involved in the Champions League. It is a special competition and you want to play in it every year”.